Bright antlers, jingling bells, hooves flying over chimney-tops, and maybe a glowing red nose. When we see even the barest, white silhouette of a reindeer, we know it’s a symbol of Christmas. They’re playful, graceful, and a fair bit more elegant than the jolly old man in the red suit. This makes reindeer a versatile, perfect decorations for any theme or atmosphere.
How reindeer became a traditional part of Christmas is a wild, twisting tale, going back centuries and combining ancient lore and a clever marketing campaign.
The first mention of Santa’s flying reindeer in writing can be tracked down to 1821 in a poem by an anonymous author who was quoted as saying that the lore of flying reindeer came from his mother who was Sami, the indigenous people of northern Europe who have a long history of herding reindeer. No number or names were given to the reindeer until 1823 when the famous poem Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore was published–but even after that the names kept evolving. The original printing of the story names two of Santa’s crew as “Dunder and Blixem” which is Dutch for “thunder and lightning,” making them the toughest sounding reindeer in the bunch, but today, through many reprints, we know them as Donner and Blitzen.
It would still take another century for this image of Santa and his reindeer to spread across the globe. What triggered it? Weirdly enough: Carl Lomen.
Lomen was an Alaskan businessman with investments in American reindeer herding. Hoping to increase national interest in reindeer, in 1926, Lomen and the folks at Macy’s came up with a plan for Santa to ride through Macy’s third Thanksgiving Day Parade pulled by reindeer and accompanied by Sami indigenous people in their traditional dress. (Ever wonder why Santa’s elves have curled shoes? Google Sami traditional shoes.)
At the same time, Lomen sent fake letters to newspapers across the country supposedly written by children requesting that Santa and his reindeer visit their towns too. The rest, as they say, is history.
So, should all that make you feel less jazzed about Santa’s reindeer?
Not even a little. Because deer have been a part of winter holidays for centuries, going back to pagan practices and the celebration of the winter solstice which marks when the days begin to grow longer. Called Yule, it’s a holiday commemorating the rebirth of the sun or god of light. This god is often represented as a deer or as having the antlers of a deer, so deer imagery has always been deeply connected to winter holidays.
There are so many correlations between Yule and modern Christmas because European pagans converted to Christianity and brought their holiday traditions with them including mistletoe, holiday trees, bell ringing, and deer.
So while it looks on the surface like marketing injected reindeer into the Christmas narrative, the reindeer has been there all along.
Looking for other Christmas decorations? Check out my guides to the best mistletoe kissing balls for Christmas, best Christmas window decorations, best Christmas balls for your tree, and best Christmas mailbox decorations.
Let’s celebrate Christmas and the winter spirit with these festive outdoor reindeer decorations.
1. Teak Isle Christmas Outdoor Sleigh and Reindeer Set
A classic style that looks stunning during the day and when lit at night, these white deer and Santa’s sleigh are a playful yet elegant addition to your lawn. They break down flat for easy storage but are also easy to slot together. These reindeer are made in the USA out of marine-grade plastic so they are lighter than wood models and will last you years through rough weather. They look fantastic as white silhouettes or you can decorate them with bows and string lights. I had similar deer in my yard growing up which were lit up at night and we got endless complements. A pair of solar yard spotlights will light the scene up for everyone driving by to see. If you want to a complete Santa’s sleighing team, you can buy additional reindeer in sets of two .
2. Animated Reindeer Family
These last reindeer actually move. The buck sways his head from side to side as if he’s looking out for his family and the doe moves her head up and down in a grazing motion. The miniature reindeer doesn’t move, but it doesn’t have it–it’s a baby and cute enough on its own. These moving lights are sure to catch the attention of passersby and delight kids. The wire frame is strung with bright LED rope for an extra bright shine. Stakes are included and the deer fold flat for easy storage. The buck is 3.8 feet tall, the doe is 2.2 feet tall, and the miniature reindeer is two feet tall. They are available as a family unit, or the buck, doe, and mini reindeer are available to buy separately. These don’t look as wonderful during the day as some of the other decorations do, but, again, they actually move.
3. Santa’s Reindeer Barn Outdoor Garage Door Decor
Want something unique and fun? Try this garage door decal by Creative Impact Graphics. The decal is designed to make it look like your garage is open and instead of cars, your garage is where Santa’s reindeer live, complete with sleigh, reindeer food, helper elves, Santa, and nine reindeer including Rudolf. This tough vinyl decal is sized to fit the standard seven foot by 16 foot garage door, whether it’s flat or paneled. Unlike the decals you’re used to, this decal isn’t basically a giant sticker. There’s no adhesive to deal with or worry it will damage your door. This decal hangs with custom hooks that expand and contract, allowing for your garage door to open and close normally even with the decal on it. This decal is reusable so Santa’s barn can make an appearance year after year.
Price: $269.99 (10 percent off MSRP)
4. Glittering Champagne Reindeer Pair
This 3D reindeer couple made of a glittery sequins material wrapped around a metal frame looks great from any angle. They have a prancing look that is playful and graceful at the same time. The buck is a towering five feet tall and over two and half feet long. I’m five feet tall. This is a me-sized reindeer–which is small for real reindeer but huge for lawn ornaments. The doe is shorter at 4.3 feet tall. As big as they are, these reindeer come apart for storage and shipping, so that does mean there will be a little assembly required. But the instructions don’t look much more complicated than insert rod A into hole B. (Yes, I really read the instructions.) Both reindeer are lit with miniature incandescent lights that cover them from hooves to antlers. The buck has a thick red collar with jingle bells and the doe has a bright red bow with gold Christmas balls and evergreen accents.
5. Decorative Sitting Deer
These two realistic deer would be perfect sitting on either side of your doorway, driveway, or mailbox. Durable poly-resin, they will holding up to the elements but aren’t as heavy as stone. The deer have been captured in great detail from their bright, glass eyes, delicate nose, to the furry inside of their ears. The pair of them are just different enough to look like a set without being just a boring copy of each other. Each deer is 13.25 tall and would look extra festive with some bows or string lights.
6. Reindeer Splat Tree Wrap
In more of a cheeky mood? Try this tree wrap for the reindeer to had a little too much eggnog. Made of weather-tough nylon, this flattened reindeer uses adjustable straps to attach to most size poles and trees. It also looks great on the side of houses or on garage doors, though you have to get a little more creative when installing it. Details like cute little hooves, tail, and festive scarf make this quick and easy decoration even cuter. The reindeer itself is around 3.5 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide, large enough to be seen by passing cars. One thing to keep in mind is that, unlike most of the decorations on this list, this one is really only visible in during the day, but I think that’s worth it for the laugh.
7. Northlight Lighted Grapevine Reindeer
For a more natural theme, these reindeer are made of real grapevines wrapped around wire forms for stability and structure. The deer are sold separately so you can customize your reindeer herd however you like. Each reindeer has a bright sprig of holly and is strung with 100 clear bulbs to light them up at night. They’re wired with end to end connectors so you can run the cords together and reduce the number of plugs you’re dealing with. They’re collapsible for easy storage and come with replacement bulbs. Another nice thing about their rustic, twisted grapevine look is that they are always visible against snow. The grazing reindeer is just under 2.5 feet tall and around five feet long. The standing reindeer is 4.75 feet tall and 2.5 feet long.
Price: From $102.50
8. National Tree 49 Inch Standing Reindeer With LED Lights
This fiberglass reindeer is four feet tall and all I want to do is pet them. It looks so friendly with its big dark eyes and cute nose. Safe for indoor and outdoor use, the decoration was carefully sculpted with details like the muscle structure of the reindeer, holly spring and bells, and the gold fringe on the saddle. The festively colored saddle and bridle are dotted with 30 multicolored LED light which give your reindeer a magical twinkle. This beautiful creature will win the hearts of children and kids-at-heart alike. The only downside is that you’ll need space to store it, unless you love it so much that you leave it out year round.
Price: $389.99 (23 percent off MSRP)
9. Lighted Silver Deer Set
This adorable doe and fawn reindeer set are made of a glittering silver material over light wire frames. They are both adorned with a silver spray of evergreen branches with gold ribbon and gold Christmas balls. The classic holiday silver and gold combination is elegant and understated. The pair is lit with over 100 lights so they can shine at night for all to see. The doe is 3.5 feet tall and the baby deer with its head turned up toward its mother is 2.3 feet tall. Stakes for securing the reindeer in your yard are included.
Price: From $94.99
10. Northlight 3 Piece Lighted 3-D Glitter Reindeer & Sleigh Christmas Yard Decoration
This three piece lawn decoration is covered in 210 clear mini bulbs to light up your yard. Gold glitter covers the deer and Santa’s sleigh. All this glitter will have your reindeer sparkling like sunlight glinting off snow. The spangly glitter also means this set looks fabulous during the day even when it’s not lit up. Each piece has their own cord so it can be plugged in separately or linked with the included end to end connectors. They’re collapsible so it’s easy to store flat and come with replacement bulbs, fuses, cable ties, and ground stakes. Each deer is 2.75 feet tall and 1.75 feet long. The sleigh is 15 inches high, 22 inches long, and 10.5 inches deep. I really like how the design makes it look like the reindeer are really taking off to fly away.